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BRANDON - East Bay had an uncharacteristic slow start this year, but things are starting to look up for coach Glenn Rodriguez's squad.
Early in the season, the Indians were down 2-3 and entered last weekend's Spring Fling Tournament 6-5. After almost three weeks of struggling, injured players and basketball players began returning to the lineup, and East Bay started turning things around.
The Indians (12-5) surprised several teams by winning the Spring Fling Tournament. Freedom was the first to fall to East Bay. After beating the Patriots 7-5, the Indians defense got tough and allowed only one run the rest of the tournament. They handed Academy of Holy Names its first loss of the season 2-0, dominated Bloomingdale 3-1 and edged Plant 1-0 without getting a hit.
"I knew we had some talented players, but some got sick, others were injured and another was delayed by being on the basketball team," Rodriguez said. "Then most of them are young and don't play travel ball in the offseason, so we are still teaching some the basics. But our coaches are working hard with them and they are coming along."
A quartet of Ashleys leads the Indians.
The top gun on the mound is Ashley Urbanik, a senior who has signed to play with Saint Leo next year. Her losses came early in the season when the Indians lacked a solid defense. She has a 6-4 record and 1.39 ERA. At the plate she is .429, and when not pitching, she helps out in the outfield.
Ashley Cole, also a senior, is the No. 2 pitcher. She is 2-0, has a 0.55 ERA, hits .326 and helps as an outfielder. Freshman Ashley Stubbs is third in the rotation. She is 2-1 with an ERA of 0.00. She recorded 15 strikeouts in the win over Academy. Freshman shortstop Ashley Greene has a rocket arm and a magic glove, according to Rodriguez. She hits .295.
"In addition to being young and inexperienced, we don't have many players," Rodriguez said. "We had only 18 girls come out for the team and I kept them all, even those with zero experience and nine of them are freshmen."
Freshman Brittany Yates plays behind the plate. She hits .265 and Rodriguez said she has thrown out 10 of 11 runners trying to steal.
Junior Kayla Dupree and sophomore Albanic Gant are both hitting .300 and over. Dupree plays second base, but missed the first six games of the season. She hits .386.
Gant is in her second year of playing organized softball and is a seasonal player. She is hitting .300 and plays rightfield.
"We started slow, but this team is coming around," Rodriguez said. "In the last four games, we gave up only one run and the team batting average is .289. ... It is not too late for us to have a very good season."
ONE TOUGH DISTRICT: In the past, Class 6A, District 6 with Riverview, Bloomingdale, Sarasota Riverview and Sarasota has been tough. So has the 5A-7 district with Chamberlain, Plant, Sickles, Clearwater Countryside and Gaither.
Now there is a new tough guy on the block.
Plant, East Bay, Brandon, Hillsborough, Middleton and King are in the newly aligned 5A-8 district.
Even with perennial powers Chamberlain and Bloomingdale in the Spring Fling, East Bay, Plant and Brandon finished Nos. 1, 2 and 3, respectively.
TWO PITCHERS DOWN: Brandon's top pitchers - freshman Megan Fenzau and sophomore Kamber Lucas - were injured in a four-day span.
Fenzau cut a finger on her pitching hand in the first game of the Spring Fling and Lucas was hit in the head with a helmet against King on Tuesday night.
Eagles coach Dee Hager hopes both will return by the end of next week.
Brandon players have responded well to their new coach, developing a winning mark of 9-5.
But district foe Plant has been a problem, with the Eagles losing three to the Panthers.
"We should be back at full strength by districts," Hager said.
FAMILIAR FACE RETURNS: Casey Nash, the Academy of Holy Names ace on the a team that made it to the final four in 2002, is still at the University of Tampa, but she has returned to help the Jaguars. She is the pitching coach for the young 9-2 Jags this season.